Government bloopers have dominated the headlines over the past week: yet do they foretell the end of the Ardern government? Or, for that matter, the result of the Hamilton by-election on Saturday.
The Prime Minister, deftly dancing on the head of a pin over the backdown on the 3 Waters “mistake”, was a sight to behold. Just as comical was the performance of Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson on TVNZ’s Q+A which won for itself the headline (in the NZ Herald): “Jackson’s bizarre interview a trainwreck”.
These are only symptomatic of a government standing above a precipice almost demanding to be pushed over it.
Yet whether the electors of Hamilton West will give it the first shove is far from clear.
Certainly the National leader Christopher Luxon, when he was campaigning there last week, got no sense of a landslide coming in his direction.
National’s candidate, Tama Potaka, who has his own record of personal achievement in the electorate, has redoubled his efforts, but accepts he is not home and hosed.
Of course Labour is sitting on a massive majority of over 6000, and there is no recent history of a majority of that proportion vanishing in the space of two years.
Still, Opposition parties should be able to exploit the current mood running through NZ. Apparently, Kiwis have become increasingly unhappy during the second half of 2022.
Of more than 6500 people who took part in the most recent Stuff NowNext Local survey, the proportion of respondents describing themselves as unhappy has doubled in six months. It rose from 12% last June, to 20% in August, then 25% in November.
Whether those who put themselves in that echelon will express their unhappiness in the ballot box is uncertain. In other eras they would of course be marching in the streets to tell politicians how they felt.
As Dr Bryce Edwards wrote in a post republished by Point of Order:
“We need to acknowledge the real divisions in society are growing, and recognise they are based on genuine pain – especially in terms of economic struggles – and then have political conversations and debates that aren’t plagued with point scoring, nastiness, and smears. The growing social divisions need attention. The political polarisation that develops out of this needn’t be a bad thing if it involves a focus on policy solutions rather than toxicity towards opponents”.
By nominating election day for Hamilton West so close to Christmas, the Ardern government did its best to ensure electors might be focussed on other matters, and the Labour candidate, Georgie Dansey, has not been inclined to identify herself too closely with any of the Ardern government’s achievements, such as they might be.
Let’s not forget that Dr Gaurav Sharma, who won the seat for Labour in 2020 with that massive majority but subsequently quarrelled with Labour’s leadership, is running for re-election and might have some residual support.
So even though most recent polls have shown National ahead of Labour across NZ, the singular features of Hamilton West suggest it could ensure the result will be very close on Saturday.
Labour strategists believe their candidate could pull a favourable result from the hat against the odds. They think that will instil the belief in the party ranks that Labour could still hold enough of the seats it won in 2020 to be, with its allies, once more on the governing benches after the general election next year.